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Hollywood, Fla. — Donald Trump’s chief lieutenants told skeptical Republican leaders Thursday the GOP front-runner has been “projecting an image” so far in the 2016 primary season and “the part that he’s been playing is now evolving” in a way that will improve his standing among general election voters.

The message, delivered behind closed doors in a private briefing, is part of the campaign’s intensifying effort to convince party leaders Trump will moderate his tone in the coming months to help deliver big electoral gains this fall despite his contentious ways.

Trump’s newly hired senior aide, Paul Manafort, made the case to Republican National Committee members that Trump has two personalities: one in private and one onstage.

“When he’s out on the stage, when he’s talking about the kinds of things he’s talking about on the stump, he’s projecting an image that’s for that purpose,” Manafort said in a private briefing.

The Associated Press obtained a recording of the closed-door exchange.

“He gets it,” Manafort said of Trump’s need to moderate his personality. “The part that he’s been playing is evolving into the part that now you’ve been expecting, but he wasn’t ready for, because he had first to complete the first phase. The negatives will come down. The image is going to change.”

The message was welcomed by some party officials but criticized by others who suggested it raised doubts about his authenticity.

“He’s trying to moderate. He’s getting better,” said Ben Carson, a Trump ally who was part of the GOP’s front-runner’s RNC outreach team.

There was evidence of drama on the Democratic side as well.

Prominent Southern Democrats urged Bernie Sanders to stop dismissing Hillary Clinton’s landslide primary wins across the South, where the front-runner’s popularity among non-whites has helped fuel her success.

Sanders said the results in the South “distort reality” because they came from the country’s “most conservative region.”

Don Fowler of South Carolina, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and other Clinton supporters told Sanders in a letter that “our national Democratic leaders” should “invest in our races and causes — to amplify our voices, not diminish them.”

Yet as Clinton’s grasp on the Democratic nomination tightens, Trump’s overwhelming Republican delegate lead has done little to calm concerns from GOP leaders, gathered at the resort for the party’s meeting.

As Trump continues to rail against “a rigged” nomination process, he sent Manafort and his newly hired political director, Rick Wiley, to help improve relationships with party officials at the meeting.

Wiley cited polls that found Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush struggling in presidential campaigns before they won. Wiley also said Trump could compete and even win in Democratic strongholds such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin — and even deeper-blue states such as New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.

“He might not win some of these blue states, but you can make the Democrats spend money and time,” Wiley said.

Trump’s team also signaled to RNC members a fresh willingness to dip into the New York real estate mogul’s personal fortune to fund his presidential bid. His campaign reserved about $2 million worth of air time in soon-to-vote Pennsylvania and Indiana, advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG shows.

Trump is increasingly optimistic about his chances in five states holding primary contests Tuesday: Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. He is now the only Republican candidate who can possibly collect the 1,237-delegate majority needed to claim the nomination before the party’s July convention.

Chief rival Ted Cruz hopes Trump will fall short of a nomination-clinching delegate majority so that he can turn enough delegates to his side at the convention to give him the prize.

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Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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